Monday, August 08, 2011

Screaming for Attention—by Jamie Levine

Lately, my daughter, Jayda, has turned into a screamer. As she’s always been a strong-willed child, I’ve come to expect Jayda to put up a fight over many things; she often takes a crazy stance on something and won’t budge. For instance, when I tell her she needs to brush her teeth in the morning, she sometimes parks herself on the couch in the family room and insists, “I’ll only brush my teeth here!” Or, if I ask her to put her dirty dish in the sink, she’ll respond, “I’ll only do that if I can have ice cream after.” And since I rarely relent on my requests because I need for Jayda to know that I’m the boss—and four-year-old Jayda is already a pro at holding her ground—our altercations usually become a battle of wills for quite awhile. I do appreciate my daughter’s strength of character; I would never want her to be a wimp or a pushover. However, lately, things have gotten out of hand: Whenever Jayda doesn’t get her way—or simply because she’s in “a mood”—she screams her head off. I’m talking tantrums like you wouldn’t believe…and they don’t stop. My daughter turns from amenable and adorable to inconsolable and irrational in an instant. And it’s driving me nuts.

Jayda's first tirade began in the middle of the night: When she woke up at three a.m. and called me to her room, and I wouldn’t stay with her for more than fifteen minutes, she became hysterical and screamed her head off. I assumed she was rattled from a nightmare or some bad thoughts she’d had, and swore to be more empathetic the next time. And I was: A few nights later, I agreed to stay with Jayda for as long as it took her to go back to sleep, but refused to let her into my bed. Another tantrum ensued. A relative who'd heard about these rages, lectured me about the fact that “something must be troubling Jayda,” and made me feel a bit guilty. But when Jayda’s tantrums started happening in waking hours—and for a myriad of ridiculous reasons (ie: over my refusal to let Jayda wear a fancy dress to day camp; Jayda not wanting to brush her teeth before eating breakfast; and Jayda insisting on having ice cream for dinner)—I was less than sympathetic to my daughter’s plight. After all, this summer, I’ve been spending more time with Jayda than ever before, so it’s not like she's screaming over being neglected. Thus, I couldn't help but start to worry that Jayda's unbearable shrieks were simply an indication that she was becoming a spoiled brat.

But how could that be? I have a great kid. A really great kid. She’s loving and affectionate, and she generally does what she’s told to do; she picks up after herself, is a great “helper” in the kitchen, and loves to be the recipient of my praise. So what’s really going on here? Why is she screaming for attention? Especially when I’m not a screamer, myself.

The other day, I came to the realization that I’ve been screaming for attention, too—though much more silently. Ever since my break up with Library Guy, I’ve been on a quest for validation from as many men as possible. I dress to flatter my figure, flirt relentlessly, and glory in every compliment I receive. But for what purpose? Library Guy didn’t reject me as a person (every interaction we had post-break-up was filled with his emotional claims to still like me, care for me, and think I was the most amazing woman in the world)—but he rejected the idea of a long-term relationship with me. And just looking pretty or talking to a million men isn’t going to change that…or make me feel any better deep-down. Attention is nice…but it needs to be from the right guy. Or well, from Library Guy—and I can’t go there. So, I need to find validation from within…and when I’m lacking it, I need to seek comfort from the people who love me: My dear, supportive friends.

Which is how I finally came to figure out how to calm Jayda down the other night. Threatening hasn’t worked; bargaining with her is fruitless; even speaking rationally about what Jayda’s doing doesn’t stop her tantrums. But if I grab Jayda (sometimes kicking and screaming) in a tight hug and refuse to let her go, eventually her hysterics stop and she just holds me back. Her sobbing soon subsides and she turns to mush. I can’t blame her really…there’s nothing better than a tight embrace from someone who loves you unconditionally—a silent promise that he or she will never walk away. And maybe that’s all that Jayda really wants. Isn’t that what everyone wants? Especially me.


Blogger Cara Meyers said...

Jaime, my son has exactly the same temperament and I have to congratulate you for doing the perfect thing! Our kids want to control the world, but that's a daunting concept to internalize even as an adult. Holding them and making them feel secure is still giving you the power to allow our kids to feel that you are still the one "in charge." Keep doing it...and the screaming and tantrums peak at age 4 and begin to subside starting at age 5. Hang in there, Jaime! You only have one more year to get through!!

9:46 AM  
Blogger Darren S. said...

Huge and Affection are what they need most. Your advice is making me think what I do as a divorced dad is working. I just wish she wouldn't want to always take advantage of me and pouts when I don't buy her every little thing in the mall.

6:23 AM  

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